Senior doctors and members of the Indian Medical Association are speaking out against a letter sent by the organisation’s office bearers to the Home Ministry endorsing the crackdown on alleged anti-nationals in Jawaharlal University. Many doctors were unaware that the association had sent such a letter and have objected to the association co-opting their support.
“I am furious that they have done this on behalf of the IMA,” said Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director of National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad and a member of the association. Shatrugna only found out that such a letter had been written while speaking to this reporter.
“I am a life member of IMA and I am quite surprised that the association has issued a letter on behalf of two and a half lakh members,” said Amar Jesani, independent consultant on public health and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. “At the least, they should have started a debate on the issue. They cannot just silence voices of others within the profession.”
Doctors like Shatrugna and Jesani are alarmed that the association has taken a position that issues like sedition and nationalism should be suppressed and not debated.
On Wednesday, the association wrote to Home Minister Rajnath Singh condemning anti national incidents at JNU and asking the ministry to take “strict actions against any persons or organizations or group carrying out any anti national protests, speeches, debates or writings in the country”. The short note ends with an appeal that “the culprits be punished as early as possible as per the law so that in future no one can dare to do anti national activities in the country”. The letter is signed by the national president of the association SS Agarwal and its honorary secretary general KK Aggarwal.
“The medical association is also made up of citizens of the country,” said Agarwal, president of the association. “Why should we send the letter in personal capacity? We must send it from the association because it is for the country.” Agarwal is currently the co-convener of the BJP Training Cell and, till 2013, was the national convener of the party’s medical cell.
Agarwal said that the matter had been discussed by the core committee of the association, which decided to send the letter extending support for action against "anti-nationals". When asked about a wider consultative process before taking such a stand Agarwal said, “We cannot ask every member and send the letter.”
R Srivatsan, independent political theorist and convener of a platform of health practitioners called Medico Friend Circle, said that some people have been offended by "anti-national" sloganeering and they want to respond. "But whether they can respond of official letterhead [of the organisation], I would say they should not, especially as the matter is political."
Sanjay Nagral, gastroenteric surgeon at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, wrote back to the office bearers to record that he did not support the views stated in the letter to the government. “Let me place on record my opposition to the statement in your letter about what you term ‘antinational’ activities like protests, debates & writings," he said. "That may I remind you is a view of a certain section of India. While many in the country including the courts are still examining the issue, you in your wisdom have reached a conclusion."
Why this? Why now?
Nagral, Shatrugna and Jesani are all surprised that the association has chosen to take this stand when it has been silent on many issues affecting the medical fraternity and healthcare in India. They say that the association has not written to the government about extortionist fees charged or ghost faculty at private medical colleges, about Dalit student suicides at medical colleges, about healthcare budget cuts, about illegal abortions and unnecessary hysterectomies, about unaffordable drugs or about the lack of doctors in villages.
“IMA should be looking at these things first,” said Shatrugna. “If you have reached a point where you are doing all this, then you can look at other things but first in your personal capacity and then with the consent of your members.”
Without taking the opinions of many of its members, IMA office bearers have exaggerated in their claim that “the 2.6 lac member of the IMA together whole heartedly extend our support to the government in this matter”.
“As far as I am concerned, this is their personal opinion that they have expressed," said Jesani. "They have never carried out any discussion within the organisation about caste. Even if they want to issue the statement that should have at least explained that despite their opinion of whether people are anti-national, they as part of the medical profession would treat them equal. When we start believing that doctors can be partisan then it will be quite devastating.”